“Safe and healthy food production is always number one”

Profile: Gerrid Gust, pulse farmer

“To me, healthy and safe food is the same thing. Everything we grow on our farm, I eat right out of the combine hopper and I would feed to my family. I do not hesitate to sell our grains to consumers. When crops leave our farm, they are natural whole-grain products.”

Gerrid and Monica Gust, together with Gerrid’s parents and his brother and wife, make up Gust Farms Limited, a multi-generation family farm. For over 100 years, the Gusts have farmed in the Davidson area. As active parents of three very busy children, Hannah, Heather and Rhett, Gerrid and Monica are focused on family and their farming business.

On the Gust family farm, they grow 14,000 acres of crops; including pulses such as lentils, peas, and soybeans, as well as more traditional canola, wheat and durum. Pulse crops are the dry seeds of legume plants and are high in protein and fibre and low in fat. They are used in everything from soups and salads to main courses and even a delicious dessert or two.

Gerrid reflects that there are many great benefits to his career in farming.

“I like the freedom to operate my own business,” he explains. “Farming allows me to chart my own course. I appreciate the ability to work on an operation where I have a chance to pass down the farm to the next generation.”

What does Gerrid wish consumers knew about producing food?

“I wish they knew how hard it is to make a living. It’s so important to retain money in the business because when you have bad years, you need to use your savings to pay your bills. To earn a living farming while competing internationally, focusing on economics, focusing on the environment, to do it all properly—it’s not a one-and-done operation. It is multi-year planning. We’re always working to keep getting better.”

“The uncertainty about the weather is a big thing. Weather is so unpredictable. In the city you can turn the tap on if your garden or grass needs watering, but farmers can’t. We rely on Mother Nature to turn the “sprinklers” on. So we put the crop in the ground and do everything that we possibly can to help our crops grow, but Mother Nature still draws the final card.”

Gerrid shares that safe and healthy food production is always number one, followed closely by sustainability. “Food safety is the big thing. We only use approved pesticides and crop protection products, with the highest scientific standards that have been approved by all levels of government, from Health Canada to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, in addition to the importing countries’ regulations. The cost to the farm and to the environment is just too high to take chances.”

“To be sustainable, we use zero till practices on our land; we try to disturb the soil  as little as possible when we work it. We try to apply the precise amount of fertilizer giving the best growing environment to produce high quality, high-yielding crops. We take soil samples every year which is geo-referenced by satellites and electrical conductivity mapping. If we have lowlands that can’t grow anything, that’s best suited for ducks, then we leave that land for the ducks.”

“To me, healthy and safe food is the same thing.

Everything we grow on our farm, I eat right out of the combine hopper and I would feed to my family. I do not hesitate to sell our grains to consumers. When crops leave our farm, they are natural whole-grain products.”

“Milk does not grow in containers on the shelves of your local grocery store. Milk is produced by farmers…”

What does the circle of life, eggnog and a passion for farming have in common?
Quick answer: Joe Kleinsasser

Joe started working in a hog barn when he was a kid. “We don’t have hogs anymore but I love the circle of life, it’s the eternal cycle of renewal, raising the young animals, that somehow speaks to me. That’s what I love the most about farming. I would go down to the barn after supper and make sure that everything was quiet and the animals were resting; you could step back a bit and enjoy what you had worked hard all day to do.”

Joe lives just north of Rosetown on a Hutterite Colony; a multi-commodity crop and livestock family farm. Together they farm 8500 acres of canola, peas, lentils, barley, and wheat.  The livestock operation includes a beef cattle herd of 300 animals, 100 dairy cows and 11,000 laying hens.

Joe loves farming.

“We are in the business to produce food as sustainably as possible.” Joe says. “You cannot farm unless you are totally passionate about it, whether it’s caring for your animals as living breathing entities or your land as a renewable resource. You cannot afford to be lackadaisical about anything. You have to look after them first from a moral perspective, and then from a production perspective.”

There’s a lot more invested in the food production system than just the food that comes out of it.

On Joe’s farm primary agriculture is a big part of the social structure.  As Joe explains, “It’s the time. It’s the passion. The love of what you’re doing.  I think if you put all that together you’ve got it.”

“For us simply because of our lifestyle, social structure and ability to function as an entity, family is extremely important. It is so much more important that the kids stay on the farm because it’s not just a particular lifestyle that’s gone if they don’t; it’s a social structure, they ensure continuity. Our success is based on transitioning to the next generation so family is very important.

”You need people that you can depend on.

“No one can work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year; we need somebody to pick up the slack.” Joe explains. “I know for me there have been a lot of times where I’ve been on different committees, different Boards of Directors, at functions where I was part of leading the industry. Every time you leave the farm somebody has to step up, that’s where family and your coworkers come in. You certainly could not do it without them.”

As Joe reflects, “We have to give a lot of credit to our farm manager’s holistic management practises. Not only in future planning but in the day to day running of the farm; developing a farm safety plan, an environmental farm plan, and animal handling and animal welfare controls that are continually being upgraded. You need to build systems that become the everyday practice, something that’s done as routinely as feeding and watering the animals.”

Bio security warnings on the doors to the chicken barn help keep out disease and harmful pests.

“I think Canada has one of the safest food producing systems in the world. With the regulations we have in place I think we can give people assurance that they are eating safe healthy food, grown in an ethical and sustainable manner.”

What would Joe like people to know about family farms?

“I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there, folks that think farms are primarily profit driven, that we do this because you make tons of money farming. I remember going to a seminar and the speaker saying if you want to get rich buy shares in Microsoft, don’t buy a farm. Yes, we can make a good living farming, but let’s face it there are easier jobs. For me those jobs wouldn’t be as satisfying.”

When you go to your grocery store looking for a particular product, perhaps eggs and milk to make your eggnog, take a little bit of time to think about what went into getting that product there. Joe reflects “You would be surprised if you stop to think about all the different steps and the different people who have committed time and energy putting your food on the grocer’s shelves.”

Meet ‘Agriculture Today’ blogger and farmer Angela Jones

Angela Jones and her husband Michael operate their farm in North East Saskatchewan. They grow cereal, oilseed, pulse crops and raise bison with the help of Michael’s cousin.

They currently have one other employee and their boys who are 11 and 14, put in shifts when they can. Michael oversees all parts of the operation and handles the marketing, while Angela handles the finances. During seeding and at harvest time though, everyone pitches in! Whether it’s operating equipment, washing windows, fuelling up machinery, running for parts or any other job that needs to be done, everyone participates. Truly, a family business.

Angela began blogging in 2014 after trying to explain farming practices to a young university student. “It was at that moment when I realized farmers were fighting an uphill battle to help consumers understand the challenges facing food production. When blogging it is sometimes difficult to find a narrative that appeals to both consumers and people involved in food production. My goal is to connect with consumers and to be transparent about the parts of agriculture that I have experience with, while hopefully learning from and supporting people in other areas of agriculture.”

RealDirt: How has farming changed since you started farming?

Angela: The changes in farming are too numerous to list! Technology in every area of agriculture adapts and adjusts so rapidly that it is a full time job to keep on top if it all. I think this is why I love farming so much, it never lets you get bored and there is no monotony (well, unless you are picking stones – that’s pretty monotonous). My kids constantly bug me and Michael about the amount of time we spend ‘playing games’ on our phones when in reality I am reading up on the newest studies and advances in crop breeding or pesticides and he is keeping up on the latest marketing news or equipment technology.

RealDirt: When you’re not farming and blogging, how do you like to spend your time?

Angela: My husband and I do a lot of volunteering. He sits on the local minor sports board and works with a local group of farmers on an annual crop fundraising project called Farmers and Friends, I help out with the local 4H Grain Club, and we both recently sat on a Cameco Hockey Day Committee that raised over $100,000 for our local recreation centre. We keep busy in the winter with our youngest son’s hockey team. Our oldest son enjoys outdoor activities, so we try to find time to camp or fish when we can.

RealDirt: What has been the most challenging part of farming?

Angela: I have been asked this question before and my answer was the financial uncertainty that comes with farming. There is no doubt that it is tough to put your heart & soul and all your time into something without a guaranteed pay cheque – we cannot set the prices of the product we sell and Mother Nature or government regulation can make things tough. BUT recently I have reflected on this answer and decided that the increase in misinformation about agriculture through social media is by far the hardest part. Time after time I see blog posts & web pages promoting false information about food production in order to sell consumers something, film producers exaggerating claims about agriculture in order to make a documentary more dramatic, or activists sharing untrue messages in order to push an agenda. The question on how to get the truth to consumers often keeps me up at night.  

RealDirt: What is one message you’d like to get across to the general public about what you do? 

Angela: I think the most important message to convey to people not involved in agriculture is just how much we care about what we do. The profession of farming is one based on pride and a deep sense of responsibility and we do not take management decisions lightly, whether that is using hormones, antibiotics, fertilizer or pesticides. So I guess the message I really want to get across is that farmers care. We care about our animals, we care about the soil, we care about the product we sell, we care about our customers, and we care about the environment. We care about those things a lot.  

 

You can connect with Angela on her blog, Instagram, Twitter (@AGtodayblog) or Facebook.

Food Freedom Day— Canadian Food Privilege Is Inconsistent

By Matt McIntosh

It’s pretty hard to beat food. We need it, we like it, and it can be an incredibly significant part of who we are.

As any shopper knows, though, food can also be expensive.

The good news for us Canadians is our national food dollar isn’t actually that high. Despite what our grocery bills suggest, we have access to some of the highest quality – and cheapest – food on the planet.

Today, February 8, is “Food Freedom Day” in Canada. Determined each year by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, “Food Freedom Day” is when most Canadians have made enough money to pay for their yearly food bill. Where the event lands each year is determined by comparing Statistics Canada data on average individual income ($32,464) and yearly food expenditures ($3,497).

Based on these numbers, the Federation determined Canadians spend approximately 10.7 per cent of their income on food.

Now, 10.7 per cent might seem like a sizeable chunk of your wallet, but it’s an astoundingly low number when analyzed in a wider geographical context. In a 2015 report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), for instance, citizens of France – another highly developed western country with a particularly glorious culinary history – spend 13.2 per cent of their annual income on food, compared to 9.1 per cent for Canada. Canada and France may not have taken the top spot on the USDA’s list – the United States consistently takes first prize there – but both were still far into the upper echelons.

That same study, for instance, shows the Portuguese spend 17.3 per cent of their income on food, the Russians a whopping 28 per cent, and Nigeria, almost unbelievably, at 56.4 per cent. A similar 2013 report from the Congressional Research Service also put these countries in very similar positions.

Granted, the USDA and Congressional studies were created using different data than what the Federation used for Canada’s Food Freedom Day, but the point is the same – in the global scheme of things, only spending one-tenth of your income on food is pretty good.

The flip side of this is, of course, that Food Freedom Day hinges on what the average Canadian has to spend on food. When viewed within the confines of our own individual experiences – whether it be a trip to the market or a restaurant – food can certainly seem expensive. Indeed, Canadians spend so much money on food that affordability and rising costs are consistently ranked as one of our country’s top public concerns.

As can be assumed in a country as vast and rugged as Canada, different communities also experience vastly differing food issues. Canadians in the far north, just as one example, can spend a small fortune on everyday products such as milk and fresh produce. Contrast that to the experience to those of us living in Ontario’s deep south, and there’s little left in the way of meaningful comparison.

Food Freedom Day helps us understand and appreciate what we have as Canadians. We have choice galore, high quality, and relatively cheap products, and systems that help farmers, processors, retailers and everyone else maintain what is, essentially, a food-privileged society.

Food Freedom Day serves as a reminder that we are a truly lucky bunch. Many folks both abroad and in our own country do not have the same luxuries, and understanding the reasons behind that disparity is never a bad thing.

Solutions can’t be found if problems have no context, after all.

Celebrate the Food You Love on Canada’s Agriculture Day

We’re part of a vibrant, forward-thinking industry that feeds the world. This is something to be proud of and celebrate, whether you’re the one consuming the food or the one growing it. We have the opportunity to do that during Canada’s Agriculture Day on February 16.

Canada’s Agriculture Day is a time to come together as an industry to celebrate the business of agriculture and engage in positive dialogue about agriculture and food. It’s a time to showcase all of the amazing things happening in the industry and help consumers draw a closer connection to where their food comes from and the people who produce it.

The theme of the day is “Let’s celebrate the food we love”. And there are many ways to get involved and celebrate the day. Whether you’re interested in participating on social media, taking a personal farm or food challenge or getting your community involved, there are plenty of ways to share your love of Canadian agriculture and food. You can make it as small or as big as your imagination can make it.

Farm & Food Care encourages all farmers, agribusinesses, and consumers to think of a way of getting involved and then take action. Perhaps it’s handing out copies of The Real Dirt on Farming booklet at your local grocery store, bus station, campus centre or book club. Maybe it’s scheduling a talk to a local service club that day, or visiting a school or inviting a classroom of students to visit your farm. There are so many ways that you can celebrate Canada’s Agriculture Day and show consumers how passionate you are about food and farming!

Once you’ve got a plan, post your activity to the event section at www.AgDay.ca to help extend the reach. This event page contains a complete list of activities happening in your community — many farm industry associations, businesses and Ag More Than Ever partners are hosting their own Canada’s Agriculture Day events that are open to the public. It’s all about celebrating Canadian agriculture and food in engaging, fun and respectful ways.

Here are a few additional ideas to get you started:

  • Challenge yourself to make a meal for your family with all Canadian-grown foods.
  • Snap a pic of what you’re doing and share it on social media – include hashtags like #CdnAgDay, #IWorkInAg or #FarmLife
  • Are you a foodie and huge fan of Canadian food? Use this day to ask your food questions!
  • Host a potluck and encourage your friends to use all Canadian ingredients. Tweet about it with #CdnAgDay as well as food-based hashtags, such as #LoveYourFood and #Foodie, to connect with those outside the farm audience
  • Visit AgMoreThanEver.ca and take an agvocate challenge.
  • Give back to the community by volunteering at your local food bank or soup kitchen.

For additional suggestions, check out the tip sheet at: http://bit.ly/2hRT319

Visit AgDay.ca for more ideas to celebrate Canada’s Agriculture Day and downloadable resources to help you out. The website has merchandise, graphics, message templates, print ads and more.

Farm & Food Care is proud to support Canada’s Agriculture Day and encourages everyone involved in the industry to get involved and celebrate the day in their own way!

360 Virtual Reality Farm Tours – They’re Udderly Amazing!

By Matt McIntosh, Farm & Food Care

Like many, I enjoy knowing how things work — there’s a reason shows such as “How It’s Made” have been through nearly 30 seasons, after all.

In the spirit of seeing first-hand how something comes to be, I’m excited to say Farm & Food Care’s latest project, FarmFood360°, is now live. With a new website and mobile capability, the project uses 360 degree video and VR (virtual reality) technology to give viewers an immersive look at where our food comes from.

The first tour looks at a dairy farm where the animals are in charge. It’s a modern farm where cows use a voluntary milking system; that’s a milking system that, quite literally, lets them choose when they want to be milked.

The remaining two tours showcase dairy processing plants: one for milk and one for cheese — one of my personal culinary favourites.

Being able to tour facilities like these virtually is also a handy thing because access to these type of locations is, generally, restricted to ensure food safety and quality.

Understanding that there are real people behind the food we eat is critical, too, so there’s also a wealth of interviews with dedicated Canadian farm families and food processing company employees. The story of our food begins and ends with people, after all, so it only makes sense to include them.

At Farm & Food Care, we’re planning to expand the FarmFood360 website to include more 360° tours in 2017. Food literacy is important to so many people, whether in a personal or professional capacity, and I’d like to think this project helps those interested get the facts in the most compelling way possible — both where food comes from, and how it gets to store shelves. 

We’re appreciative too, to our partners at Dairy Farmers of Canada and Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Ltd., to helping us get this project off the ground.

If interested, check out www.FarmFood360.ca. Our 23 older point-and-click virtual farm tours are there too (filmed over the last 10 years); they may not look as fancy, but there’s still a wealth of information on all kinds of Canadian farms, from vegetables and eggs, to ostrich and elk. 

It’s up now, it’s free, and in my humble opinion, the Internet is  better because of it.

How Facebook Helped Me Make Friends With GMOs

By Julie Mellor-Trupp

I’ve been obsessed with good health and nutrition since I was a teenager. As a young mom, I did everything possible to ensure my kids’ good health. I chose organic and natural foods, and used all-natural remedies, pesticides, and cleansing agents – only the best. My guidebooks were the myriad of materials provided by health gurus, celebrities and yoga instructors.

Julie Mellor-Trupp writes from Toronto, Ontario.

Then I discovered Facebook. I joined some health groups, and learned about evil corporations like Monsanto, which was trying to poison both us and the environment with dangerous pesticides and GMOs.

My mission was clear: I needed to inform the world of these terrible things.

I was well into my first few months of this commitment when one new member in an anti-Monsanto group suddenly chose me as his mentor, asking for all I knew.

He questioned endlessly, I answered. He questioned my answers. He forced me to search for ever more information.

It got tiresome and I started throwing in links without even reading them. I just ‘knew’ that they were good links; the headlines all matched my views. He read them all – and questioned me sentence by sentence. That meant I had to actually read everything I had shared, and found to my surprise that half of the links that I had provided went against everything I believed.

I started asking a lot of questions myself on my favourite forums, seeking evidence for claims that, days before, I had merely ingested as facts.

I soon found out any challenge to a claim on anti-GMO sites had me being called a shill for Monsanto and permanently removed. I realized that by stifling all challenges and silencing dissent, group members forced others to fall in line, mindlessly and unquestioning. I was shocked that my months as a ‘good member’ meant nothing to people who had now turned against me, merely for asking for evidence of their claims.

Fortunately, I found Facebook forums where I wasn’t yelled at whenever I questioned someone’s post on the subject of food and GMOs. I even joined sites that weren’t anti-GMO, wanting to know how ‘they’ could believe in this terrible unnatural technology.

Click here to Read More about GMOs in the Real Dirt on Farming! 

I’ve learned to respect the views of people who had been educated on subjects about which I was concerned – for example, farmers, biotechnologists and, yes, even those who work for Monsanto. I recognized that some celebrity actor knows no more about science than do I – and shouldn’t have as much influence on public opinion as a university-educated professional.

I even found organic farmers who support GMOs for a sustainable future.

I have come to realize that biotechnologists and farmers are not evil, paid-off or misguided. They kiss their babies before leaving for work and strive to make a better world like the rest of us.

I’ve realized the harm that comes from being uncritical.That those who aren’t speaking from a position of knowledge or education CAN hurt my family – by not vaccinating children, by controlling what is taught in schools, and by lobbying governments into making wrong decisions.

I’ve come to realize that people don’t have a right to their own facts, and that there aren’t always two equal sides to a story.

To ‘pay it forward,’ I now run several fact-based Facebook sites.I try to help others who are confused and fearful about current agricultural practices, as well as other controversial topics like vaccines, pesticides, chemicals and media’s often-misinformed portrayal of scientific research.

I’m every bit as committed to good health as I was as a teenager and young mom, but I’ve learned so much about what really constitutes truth, and what represents distorted propaganda for other agendas.

Julie Mellor-Trupp and her family live near Toronto, Canada.

What’s the deal with hormones?

By Jean L. Clavelle, Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

I’m just going to say it — grocery shopping is complicated business. You are bombarded by confusing marketing campaigns and it seems everywhere you turn there is another ‘dangerous’ food item you should avoid.

Take hormones, for example. You see chicken, turkey, and dairy products with stickers that say “hormone free” or “raised without the use of added hormones” and then around the corner, cattle ranchers ask us to buy their “grown with hormones” beef! What’s the deal?

It’s true. Chicken and turkey farmers do not use hormones. The truth is they just don’t need to. Animal scientists have done a pretty good job of selecting the breeds of birds that grow the fastest. They have figured out the best feeds that the birds require, and farmers hire animal nutritionists that develop food specifically for their birds. Farmers are particularly aware of the environmental factors that will slow growth, such as changes in air temperature, humidity extremes and lighting and they do their utmost to ensure those are controlled or eliminated. Not only that, but they limit barn access to everyone but family and farm employees to prevent exposure to diseases or stressful situations. Basically, these birds are already growing under peak physiological conditions.

If a farmer wanted to, though, could he or she still use hormones? The answer is no. You might be surprised to know that the use of hormones in poultry farming was actually made illegal in Canada in 1963.

dyk-chicken-1However, there’s another reason, too. Hormones are naturally occurring and necessary for biological function. In poultry, for added hormones to be effective in improving growth, they would need to be administered in sequence with the peaks in their existing hormone pattern (which occur several times daily) and they would need to be injected intravenously. Given the current scale of poultry farms (most farms have several thousand birds), the cost to administer and the stress to the animal, the impracticalities are just too significant for this to be a plausible management strategy. So, NO CHICKENS are ever raised with added hormones.

The same is true of dairy cattle. It is illegal for Canadian farmers to use hormones in dairy cattle farming. But, this is not due to human health concerns. In fact, the U.S. does allow hormones to be used in dairy cattle — a hormone called recombinant bovine somatotropin (or rBST for short). So why don’t Canadian dairy farmers use rBST in milk production?

Because the advances in dairy farming are astonishing! There are now robotic milkers which allow cows to decide when and how often they wish to be milked, waterbeds for cow comfort, and we even have scientists who devote their entire careers to studying cow welfare. Canadian farmers have a national dairy herd that is considered among the highest level of genetic quality in the world to optimize animal production. Dairy farmers use nutritionists who balance the cows’ diets using the best of the best food ingredients. All in all, Canadian farmers are dedicated to ensuring healthy, stress free cows, promoting efficient milking and prioritizing cow comfort and welfare, which means dairy cattle have reached peak milk production without the need for added hormones.

Research has shown that using hormones to increase milk production in dairy cattle that are already milking at a high rate can result in health problems for the cows. Wisely, Canada decided this was not a necessary practice and banned its use due to animal welfare concerns – not because of fears regarding human health impacts.

But why do beef farmers use hormones? Hormones for beef cattle are administered via very small (2 mm in diameter), slow-release capsules placed under the skin in an animal’s ear where they dissolve over a period of months. These hormones work by enhancing the production of naturally-occuring hormones, by directing growth towards muscle and away from fat. Growing muscle takes much less energy (and is more efficient) than growing fat (which is less efficient). As a result beef cattle given hormones grow faster, have leaner compositions, and make more efficient use of the feed that they eat. These are important and environmentally beneficial things.

Now, it is true there are differences in hormone levels between beef raised with hormones and beef raised without hormones. That difference is about one nanogram or less. A nanogram is one billionth of a gram. For context, that is the equivalent of one second in 32 years, one foot in a trip to the moon, or one blade of grass in a football field. So, yes, technically there is a measurable difference in hormone levels found in beef raised with added hormones, but one that is minuscule.

Major governing health organizations (including Health Canada, World Health Organization, and United Nations) agree that this tiny difference is of no significance to human health. I should also point out that no peer-reviewed scientific studies exist to indicate eating beef produced with hormones has any negative impact on human health.

It might be surprising to learn that hormones are in all living things and that the relative amount of hormone in beef, either with added hormones or without, is much less when compared to many other food items regularly consumed in North American diets. For example, a 355 ml glass of beer contains nearly 8 times the amount of estrogen than a serving of beef grown with hormones, and a serving of cabbage contains over 1,000 times the amount of estrogen than an equivalent serving of hormone-raised beef. A pre-pubertal boy would have to eat over 8 cows’ worth of beef produced using hormones PER DAY to match his own daily production of estrogen. Please keep in mind though that even at higher levels, like those found in cabbage, and regardless of the food source they come from, hormones are proteins and are simply broken down into amino acids during digestion just as any other protein.

My take home message? Please do not be frightened of your food. Canadian farmers, scientists and government health organizations have our best interests at heart when it comes to the health, safety and affordability of our food supply. Continue to make nutritious choices, keep asking questions, and get to know a farmer so you have someone to talk to about your concerns!

READ MORE IN THE REAL DIRT ON FARMING, PAGE 23

How Can You Be Sure Your Food is Safe?

By Lauren Benoit and Carmen Tang

Canadians adore food, and rightfully so — we’re the country that combined the most artery-clogging ingredients we could find and turned the resulting dish into a national treasure known as poutine. We pour maple syrup on snow and call it dessert (or breakfast, if you’re truly dedicated). Heck, we love peameal bacon so much the rest of the globe collectively named it after us.

When it comes to food, Canada has a lot to offer and so much to be proud of, including an incredibly safe, diverse, and affordable supply.

Plentiful offerings

As Canadians,  we are privileged to a lot of choice when it comes to what we eat. If you want fresh veggies on your poutine you can have it, if you want bacon on your poutine you can have it, if you want poutine made with organic potatoes and vegetarian gravy, yes, you can have that too. The choices we have are impressive and what’s equally impressive is that every single one of those choices is just as safe as the next. Our government has a responsibility to protect the health and safety of Canadian consumers, and that is something they are very good at.

As farmers we often speak about what we do on the farm, how we follow the strict, federally-regulated protocols that ensure that food leaving our farms is safe for Canadians. The farmer is involved with- and committed to- the production of safe food, but our food safety story doesn’t stop there. A lot happens between the farm gate and dinner plate, and through every step of the value chain the safety of Canadians remains the top priority.

Keeping Canadian food safe

The Canada Food and Drug Act, created by the government of Canada, dictates the laws and policies of food. The CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) enforces these laws and can be thought of as the watchdogs of food safety. The CFIA is also responsible for other parts of the food chains including: the living and transportation conditions of animals, protecting our country from foreign diseases/pests, verifying food import quality, honesty in food labelling, and the regulation of genetically modified crops (commonly referred to as GMOs).

Your beloved golden, crispy fried French fries are likely fried with vegetable oil, particularly canola oil. Much of the canola grown in Canada has been genetically modified to include different traits, namely herbicide tolerance. Genetic modification, a type of biotechnology, is regulated by CFIA and Health Canada under the Food and Drugs Act. Genetically modified crops undergo rigorous safety testing before they even reach the farmers’ fields. The regulatory process involves thoroughly researching, testing and assessing the safety of the new GM foods. In Canada, these foods are referred to as ‘Plants with Novel Traits.’ Not all plants with novel traits are genetically modified, but all are subject to the same safety standards  Each trait and crop undergoes over 200 tests on everything from toxicology, molecular biology, and nutritional composition to ensure the genetically modified product is just as safe and nutritious as its non-GMO counterpart.

After the farm

After leaving the farm, many food ingredients travel to a processing facility. The bacon in your poutine is processed at a registered butcher or meat processing plant. Every federal meat or poultry processing facility is required to follow a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) protocol to food safety standards. HACCP is an internationally-accepted approach that requires processing facilities to identify all possible food safety hazards, design protocols to control hazards, a safety verification process and corrective actions. Potatoes, under fruit and vegetable regulations, also go through a regulated processing plant where the product is cleaned, sorted, portioned then packaged. The CFIA performs safety audits where critical points throughout the plant line are tested frequently for quality control.

If you want to be assured that your “vegetarian gravy” for your poutine is, in fact, meat-free, you can rest assured that regulations and inspection efforts are in place to ensure that product labels are factual, and not misleading (especially in the case of known allergens). In the rare event of a mislabeling, the product is immediately recalled, destroyed, and removed from the marketplace.

Product inspection extends to the non-federal registered sector, too, which includes alcoholic beverages, infant foods, and bakery products, as well as to foods imported to Canada. Products in the grocery store come from all around the world; Canadian food importers must hold an importers license. This license ensures food coming into the country meets the same standards as food produced in Canada by outlining the actions taken to keep their food safe and compliant with the CFIA’s rules.

The bottom line is that as you walk through a Canadian grocery store choosing the food that you will eat and feed your family, you can be assured that each product has passed through an internationally-renowned food safety regulatory system. Regardless of what you chose — organic, genetically-modified, all-natural, local, or conventional — the choice is yours, and all options are equally safe. From there, it’s up to you to make sure you’re storing, handling, and cooking your fine Canadian foods safely!

About the authors: Carmen is a fourth-year Food Science student at the University of Guelph and president of the Food Science Club. Lauren Benoit is a science and regulatory affairs analyst at CropLife Canada, and will be starting a MSc. degree at the University of Guelph in January, 2017.

What Giving Tuesday is All About

By now, you’ve possibly taken advantage a wicked good Black Friday deal on a toaster oven, or maybe started and ended your holiday shopping from the comfort of your couch because of Cyber Monday. Did you know that the day following this weekend of spending frenzy is known as Giving Tuesday?

This year, Giving Tuesday falls on November 29th. It’s a national day of giving to your favourite not-for-profit organization.

Farm & Food Care is one of those organizations participating in Giving Tuesday. We rely on paid membership, partnership project funding, and donations to do the work that we do.

What do we do? We’re the group connecting dinner plates to farm gates. Our goal is to collaborate, communicate, and engage with Canada’s consumers, and to encourage and train Canada’s farm industry in not just best manageme1962-giving-tuesday-logo_ffc_300x250nt practices, but also in sharing the great story that Canada’s food system has to tell.

Your donation helps to support events such as Breakfast on the Farm, the Food Bloggers Tour, and makes resources like the Real Dirt on Farming possible.

Want to support us? Simply click the image to donate! And thank you for helping us reach out and be the helpful experts for Canada’s farming and food industries.